By KELECHI MGBOJI
Dependence on oil revenue has, for quite some time, agitated governments at all levels in the country so much so that there have been persistent calls for diversification of the economy before it gets late in the day.
The concern expressed by well meaning Nigerians over dependence on oil stem from the realization that oil resources and revenue may dry up sooner than it may be imagined as researchers have warned that oil deposits in the country may dry up in about 42 years to come. Whether this research finding is true or not, it is heartwarming to know that there has never been more conscious efforts to diversify economy of this country than recent efforts both at Federal level and state level.
At a media chat last week, Delta State governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, disclosed radical economic drive, huge projects initiatives, and massive investments undertaken by his government to lift Delta State economy beyond oil revenue. The medical doctor turned politician tells the story of what his administration is doing to change the fortunes of the oil rich state.
Delta beyond oil initiative
We are an oil producing state. For us oil is neither here nor there in terms of maintaining our economy. The oil can finish and prices can fall and anything can happen to the oil which can affect our economy. For this reason we initiated the policy called Delta beyond oil; that is using the money we are getting from oil to develop other areas of the economy, especially agriculture, culture and tourism, industrialization, etc. In doing this, there are some basic things we need to do to be able to attract investors.
Delta is one of the Niger Delta states where there had been a lot of crises especially in the Warri axis and that has affected a lot of industries. To be able to get the industries back to operations there are some basic infrastructures that are required. Of course all over the country it is well known that one basic infrastructure badly needed today is power. Whether it is a big investment or small investment, the big industry or the small one like a barbing salon, they all require power.
Strategically, in dealing with the issue of power, we partnered with the Federal Government (FG) as partners in the independent power plant project. There are some national independent power plants the FG is building since the Obasanjo era. We made our contribution to the tune of N15.7 billion to the National Independent Power Plant. That makes us a shareholder in the project. Hopefully when those projects are completed, it is not only the returns on our investment that we will be getting but also some reasonable quantity of power supply to the state especially from the one that is in Delta, the Sapele ower Plant.
Investment in power distribution and transmission lines
Secondly, we also as a state comprehensively invested in distribution and transmission lines in the state. So a lot of transmission lines you see in Delta, a lot of the distribution facilities such as transformers, most of them were purchased by the state government. Each year we buy and replace. On our own too, we also stated our independent power plant at Oghara. So, all these we have done in terms of investing in power hoping that in about 2 to 4 years down the line, there will be improved power supply. But beyond anticipated improvement in power lies revenue target to uplift the economy.
Investment in transportation
Another area we have tried to look into is the area of transportation. Here we are talking about roads, ports whether sea or air ports, railway, etc. Unfortunately for this country, most of the infrastructures that will attract investors legally are federal government responsibility. When you talk about power, it is as at today completely FG responsibility. When you talk about transportation, airports are primarily FG’s responsibility. Like the airport we are constructing in Asaba, we do not have ownership of the airport. All the regulatory activities are by the FG but we have to go into it because we require it. So, for the transportation we started looking at airports in Asaba and Warri. There is an airport in Warri but it is only 2 kilometers. We tried to expand it but we have challenge there with Shell. But now I think we have passed through that, we are about constructing a longer runway. For the past four years now, we have embarked in the construction of an airport in Asaba. Is still undergoing construction but passengers are coming through the airport now.
Roads construction under PPP programme
For the road construction, the major highway that we require to attract investors are unfortunately FG roads. We held a meeting with Onitsha traders when noticed that they import most of their goods through Lagos airport and sometimes through Port Harcourt. We asked them they would not import through the Warri port here that is nearer to them, they gave us a lot of excuses one of which was the issue of the road between Warri and Onitsha. If they import their goods through Lagos, sometimes it takes about three days; with the condition of Ore road now it will take quite some time to get their destination. So we try to appeal to them not to give us the road excuse. We therefore decided that although it is FG road, we will take advantage of the dualisation of the Warri – Port Harcourt road which passes through Ughele. So we embarked on that road project and we are on it now. When you bring your goods through Warri airport and the road is properly dualised between two hours you can get your goods in the market. We gave the contract to three different contractors and the three of them are at various stages of completion.
Then we also looked at the Warri port. As at 2007 the port was virtually closed because of the Niger Delta crisis; ships were not coming and there was virtually no activity going on there. We had to partner with the NPA to try and reopen the port. We have been able to reopen the port. It is one of the active ports now. All the warehouses are over filled. And the NPA had to construct another area to take goods that are coming in. That has revived the ports such that the level of activities you see in that place today could have been imagined about 5 years ago. Apart from the Ugheli Warri road we also have the Koko road and some other major highways that we are constructing to encourage economic activities and investors to come in.
In the ICT infrastructure we are citing an ICT park in Asaba. We are serious about the issue of ICT because that also encourages investors. The next thing is to create industrial clusters. We have designated some areas in the state as industrial clusters. What we are doing is to put the needed infrastructures in those areas. What industrialists need to do is just to come in with their portfolio and key into the infrastructures that we have provided including power, water, sewage, and others. So those are things we have put in place to attract investors towards diversifying the economy of the state; especially all those things we know that could encourage investors coupled with peace and security which has retuned in the area and which we are working hard to sustain.
We are also doing what we call the low hanging boat because to finish all these will take about 5 to 6 years. Industries to come and start operating will also take a longer time. In the interim you can not tell people to wait for that long before they start to get jobs. So, on the low hanging boat we are concentrating on the micro and small scale enterprises, and our micro credit scheme we have over a 100,000 that have benefited. Some are moving to small scale industries. In fact we want to move some micro enterprises to small scale enterprises; that is what we are doing now. There are several other things we are doing to attract investments.
The third one is human capital development. We need to prepare the people so that when these industries come, they are well prepared to receive them. Our human capital development starts from pregnancy down to school age. There are a lot of things that we are doing to encourage women have babies that are viable; after that we take care of the babies. There after they have good schools to attend. We are addressing dearth of infrastructures like schools, hospitals, water; these are things that help human capital development agenda.
Reviving collapsed industries
Apart from attracting new investments, there are also industries that we have revived. There is an economic advisory team we have set up led by Mr. Bismack Rewane, the Chief Executive Officer of Financial Derivatives Limited. The membership of the team constitutes players in private sector; we have in it Mr. Albert Okumagba of BGL, Vera Otubu, Evelyn Oputu who is the Managing Director of Bank of Industry (BOI). We also have the MD of Chevron as a member of the team.
What they have been assisting us to do is to look at our government structure and see how they can help us attract investments and investors into the state. The first thing they looked at was the running of our ministries. They helped us to bring experts to look at the way we run our ministries.